Publication date: April 1, 1994
A few years ago some spirited youngsters put together a free teen sex-weekly called The Stranger which I neatly parodized during my lunch hour one lazy afternoon. I had been intrigued by the way the teens had taken on the Task of Writing and come away stunned, bloodied and eventually discarded by the English language like so much loose scurf and dander, and so I lampooned those antics good-naturedly, after which I considered the issue closed, believing that there was no more to be said on the matter since of course their response would not be intelligible. Well, it seems I underestimated them.
I was spending the morning growing my publishing empire not long ago when comes my Fool to gingerly place a rumpled tabloid onto my desk.
Hmm. Yellowish; queer smell. "Don't tell me."
"Indeed," says he. "The Stranger. Seems that, unbeknownst to anyone -- and contrary to all accepted codes of civility -- they've been publishing weekly for the last six months."
Odd. "Thought I'd settled this matter."
"Teens are stubborn, as you know." He indicated the tabloid. "And curiously pragmatic. They just reprint the same articles, editorials and personal ads each week. Cartoons change, of course."
"Of course." First rule of publishing. "But tell me, Fool: about the writing?"
His lower lip began to tremble. "Each week e'er-worsening."
What say? From one issue to the next, the same exact writing ... yet each week e'er-worsening? Impossible, of course; as I said, I had underestimated them. I gently turned the mottled pages.
Instantly my eyes began to sting and burn: O, sweet Muse of Letters! Fortunate that the impieties committed against your name are not legible to you! I steeled myself and probed the brutish print: cold, waxen parts of speech had been flung across the folio before me by some awful accident in someone's mind, and spidery typographical errors, as if fleeing the scene, ran fully to the edge of the page and beyond. My bleary gaze fell upon vulgarities so base and steeped in commonness as to be unknown to me, and I could vaguely see, lurking in the ruins, a rag-tag army of hackneyed phrases and even a cliché. I pushed the abomination from me.
[I'm not trying to imply that I actually read any of it. I mean, it's a teen sex-weekly: no one reads it. Teens flip through it and pruriently imagine what the words might be. So how do I know it's badly written? Funny question, really: a 20th-century twist on an age-old conundrum. You know how it goes: if a teen writes a story in the forest, but there is no one there to read it, is it badly written? And philosophers long ago agreed that yes, of course it is.]
As I dabbed my eyes with aloe balm I had to admit I felt flattered. It was obvious, of course, what had happened: the teens had carefully examined my award-winning parody and had, not surprisingly, come to think of it as a guide in the writing of free teen sex-weeklies. And it seemed they had taken careful heed of my world-wisdom: for surely The Stranger had evolved to become a model of the genre, absolutely awful and foul.
But there was something twisted here. Think about it: the only legitimate reason for producing a free teen sex-weekly is to ridicule those who would do so, like I had done ... isn't that obvious? I mean, sure: my lampoon had been full of language anomalies, curses and unpleasant imagery. But I was only kidding! The Stranger had been produced using real teens, writing with real inability. It ridiculed nothing. Hundreds of teens were exposed to it each week unaware of the incompetences to which they were being subjected. This was my doing. It felt bad.
There was only one way to rectify the matter. I would have to ridicule them again. It was the only thing that could make me feel better.
"Round up some teens, Fool. We're going to assemble the most exciting lack of talent in the industry. We'll need pens, galley sheets, graphics, heroin."
"Another Stranger parody?" He scratched his head. "Don't know about that. I recommend you ease off. If you keep ridiculing them like this you'll drive them out of business. And then whom would you ridicule?"
I recall smiling. "I suppose then I would ridicule the unemployed," I said with a wink. It's good for morale when my employees challenge my ideas because I win every time.
I must confess that things did not go as badly as I'd planned at first. And over the next two weeks I learned some important life-lessons about how to reach down inside yourself to bring out the worst in others, and what I realized is you can't use teens when you do this because their worst, like their best, is simply not very good. My experience with young Jeffrey is illustrative: "There are problems with what you've done here, Jeffrey. Nice. For example, an illiterate person writing a book review. One would like to ignore your recommendation ... but what book was it? Can't tell. And your Ombudsman Column has an eerie, almost Sisyphean flavor to it, since you clearly don't know what an ombudsman is. But as for the rest ... hmm. To be honest, Jeffrey, I found your Unsolvable Word-Search Puzzle to be frankly more stimulating than regular ones; and I'm sorry, but your lengthy Sports Editorial did not make me vomit. And as for your bungled Obituaries? I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry." I handed the manuscript back to him. "Three times through the shredder." I use an old hand-crank shredder from the Antebellum period. Gives the teens time to think and a little exercise, to boot.
At one point I even had four of the teens form a popular local band and then come in and sing one of their songs for me. I'll just use their bad lyrics, I thought. But when I set them down on paper they came out as long strings of unarranged phonemes, and -- as I repeatedly explained to them -- you have to be able to tell that it is writing in order to know that it is bad writing. I had them all thrown in jail.
Eventually I took a crack at just doing the bad writing myself. But frankly I'm not suited for it. For example, I bashed together a short op-ed piece praising the Seafair Parade and then rearranged all the words. Bet that'll be bad writing, I thought. But I only ended up with some damn fine poetry.
Great. That's all this troubled world needs right now.
Conundrum. And that's not the George Clark style. So what would a normal person do in a pickle such as this? I coursed the plush corridors of my office tower and pondered. I knew from my reading that normal persons or executives in a pickle call their moms in a panic ... hmm. Could it really be that simple?
Of course. I couldn't use someone who was simply "bad." There was the danger that he or she might improve over time. More logical that my scribe's linguistic gifts be founded in a first-class, comprehensive genetic code. Yes: the woman who is the wellspring of all things George Clark if in fact she is my real mom and who had come to my assistance so many times over the years of my infancy. She's been my mother for over 50 years now and I've never asked for or expected thanks but I've regularly asked her to take on miscellaneous tasks.
The Stranger would once again feel my sting!
I found a phone and punched in the number from memory.
Ring-ring. "Hello, cafeteria."
Me: "Take off that ridiculous apron and get up here. You've been promoted to Cashier in Charge of Assigned Duties."
She arrived soon thereafter and placed a small item on my desk. "I stole a fruit cup for you."
I smiled. She "stole" it for me? It would come out of her check. "Sit down, Eudora. Good to see you. On the table in front of you lies a copy of The Stranger, an obscure sex-weekly for teens. You will read this tabloid carefully, then design, write, edit and proof-read a 12-page parody of it."
Dear sweet mom. She took off her bifocals, cleaned them on her frock, replaced them tremulously and squinted at me as if to say, "My son needs my help with one of his magazines." [Tabloid parody, actually. For God's sakes, Mother!] And I looked back at her and said, "About the pull-out section in The Stranger? 'Rimming' is just another word for 'analingus.' Now get going."
That night, while locking up, I found her. Three in the morning, 10th floor of the paste-up building: there she was, hunched over the light-table, wielding wax stick and razor and gauze and a lot of caring. I stepped quietly in behind her and looked over her shoulder. I stared for a time at the pages beneath me limned out in thin white light. And then from the far reaches of my lexicon I drew the bricks and mortar of an accolade equal to the fine perfection here wrought. "Dear God. The writing is of an empyrean badness unlike any ever beheld before by man; I expected no less. The advertisements seemingly impugn the very services they are meant to promote. The typographical errors? They make no sense and have no style. And the editorial opinion is simply wrong."
And I reached out and tenderly touched her and then of course the masterwork; and I laid the fruit cup beside her, bringing it full circle.
So that's the story of how The Whimper 2 was born. I printed up 400,000 copies and released them to the public (after of course making extensive corrections and rewriting the text in order to remove its many embarrassing grammatical, semantic and stylistic blunders) and the rest is history.